How to wash bath towels - keep them fresh, featherlike and 5-star standard after every wash

Ensure bath towels are always soft and fluffy with these easy steps

bathroom with wood wall hooks and towels
(Image credit: Loaf)

Knowing how to wash a bath towel the right way will mean your warm and relaxing soak at the end of a long day will not be ruined by a rough and musty bath sheet.

So, how do you prevent your best bath towels from turning into cardboard in both texture and colour after a few washes?

Here, we will show you an easy method of how to wash bath towels to ensure they stay soft, fluffy and fresh once they’ve been laundered. 

storage shelf above door in bathroom

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

How to wash bath towels

'There is nothing quite like stepping out of a relaxing bubble bath or steaming hot shower and into the warm soft embrace of your favourite towel', says Lucy Ackroyd, Head of Design at Christy

But to achieve soft and fluffy towels it's important to first think about what detergents and cleaning ingredients to choose, this is key. Washing machine temperature and cycle programmes also play a big part, and finally, storage is a key consideration to keep your towels fresh for longer. 

Follow the below steps to care for your bath towels to keep them fresh, featherlike and to 5-star hotel standard wash after wash.

The Secret Linen Store pink towels

(Image credit: The Secret Linen Store)

What you need

  • Towels 
  • A washing machine
  • Laundry detergent
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Tea tree oil (optional)
  • A tennis ball or tumble dry balls (optional)

1. Separate linens

As bath sheets are large and bulky, the best practice is to wash them in an isolated washing machine load. 

First, separate the fabrics into light and dark to avoid colour running. 'Begin by sorting your towels based on colour to prevent any potential colour bleeding during the wash,' explains Gwilym Snook from the heated laundry department at AO.

'Also, sort your towels based on fabric type, as different fabrics may require specific care.'

Garden Trading laundry basket

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

2. Pre-treat stains

Experts advise that bath towels should be machine washed on a gentle cycle to pro-long their quality. Therefore it's wise to pre-treat any stains before washing. Look for any obvious marks that need eliminating and spot soak with laundry detergent, we've found the best cleaning product for stain removal to be Ecovers liquid stain removal, available on Amazon or Vanish, available at most supermarkets. They both work a treat.

Baqir Khan, cleaning expert and owner of Proactive Cleaners says, 'For stains, pre-treat them with a stain remover, such as Vanish, before washing them. Apply a small amount of detergent directly onto the stain, gently rub it in, and let it sit for a few minutes.'

'Always avoid using detergents or stain removers containing optical brighteners or bleach as these may leave marks on your towel', add Emily and Jonathan Attwood, Founders of Scooms.

3. Load the washing machine

A green kitchen with a washing machine

(Image credit: Future PLC/Rachael Smith)

Loading a washing machine for a towel wash may seem self-explanatory, however, a vital trick when knowing how to wash bath towels is not to overfill the drum. 

'One tip that's good for every wash, including towels, is to never overfill the washing machine load when washing towels,' says Victoria Bennion, Head of Category (MDA) at Curry's.

'This allows for them to have enough room to wash properly and ensures the spin function works properly to remove the most amount of excess water, allowing the towels to dry quicker post wash.'

4. Add detergent

When washing towels with detergent, less is more. Too much can lead to soap and sud residue build-up that increases the chance of bacteria.

Sophie Lane, Product Training Manager at Miele GB says, 'Towels are not as dirty as you might think as they are usually used to dry “clean” people, so always use less detergent than suggested. 

T'o keep towels soft, make sure that all detergent is rinsed away to make sure no soap or residue is left in the fabric.'

Too much detergent also affects bath towel effectiveness.

'Detergent residue build up on towels causes them to be less absorbent, hard and rough when they are dry. Adding an extra rinse or using Miele’s Water Plus option will help' continues Sophie Lane.

Lucy Ackroyd agrees. 'Add a few drops of tea tree oil to your washing machine when washing your towels. This natural oil has antibacterial properties that can help to kill odour-causing bacteria.'

No Revisions / Unsplash pouring detergent into washing machine drum

(Image credit: No Revisions / Unsplash)

5. Skip fabric softener

Contrary to popular belief adding fabric softer to a towel wash will not keep them soft in the long run. 

'Fabric softener eventually clogs the fabric and often contains animal fats which over time will contribute to blockages and mould forming in your washing machine which will reduce its performance and end up costing more environmentally and financially', says Laura Harnett, founder of Seep Eco Tools.

'Fabric softener is also especially bad for towels as it coats the fabric and reduces absorbency.' 

White vinegar bottle with a measuring jug

(Image credit: Future PLC/Phil Barker)

6. Consider vinegar

If missing laundry softener out of the washing bath towel process seems so ludicrous that you can't bear the thought of not adding conditioner, why try an eco-friendly alternative like white vinegar? 

Learning how to clean towels with white vinegar, is as simple as swapping it for laundry softener to keep towels soft and fresh.

Nancy Emery, cleaning expert at Drench explains. 'Softening your towels with white vinegar is a great way to ensure the soapy residue is broken down, which will prevent them from feeling rough and stiff.'

'Simply wash your towels on a cycle of detergent and one cup of white vinegar in the tray and wash as normal. There’s no need to rinse the towels after the wash.

Doing this once every few weeks will be enough to keep your towels soft for the foreseeable future. The vinegar will also help to clean your washing machine!'

7. Wash towels on a gentle cycle

To keep cloth fibres strong wash bath towels on a gentle cycle. Choose the warmest water appropriate for the fabric according to the care label.

'You may think that hotter temperatures are better for cleaning clothes, but towels are best washed in temperatures around 30-40 degrees,' says Nancy Emery.

'Warm water absorbs detergent better, in turn leaving less chemical build up on your towels, which makes them feel stiff. 

Although washing your towels at higher temperatures is the most efficient way to get rid of germs, 30 or 40 degrees will still eliminate most of your bacteria and preserve your towel fibres.'

Fisher Paykel washing machine

(Image credit: Fisher Paykel)

8. Tumble dry

Once clean, remove your towels from the washing machine and shake them to breathe new life into the fibres. Dryer balls will decrease drying time and help soften fabrics naturally.

'You can dry towels in a tumble dryer but choose a low setting to protect the material. Adding a tennis ball to the dryer while the towel is inside will help to make them nice and fluffy', says cleaning expert, Emily Barron at Property Rescue.

...or air dry

Some experts recommend avoiding the tumble dryer altogether as even low heat can damage fibres. Instead, when the weather is fine, dry towels outside in natural daylight and shake them to fluff up before folding.

'Too much harsh heat can damage the cotton of your towels, which can be another reason why they feel hard. Line washing is the most environmentally friendly way to dry towels, so if you're drying them this way, you should shake the towels once they’ve dried to fluff them up,’ explains, Nancy Emery.  

However, if you can't dry towels outdoors, there are other methods such as using a heated airer, or most of the best dehumidifiers feature a laundry drying function. 

9. Fold and store

The final stage of knowing how to wash bath towels is storing them in well-thought-out storage solutions. Before folding, shake to loosen the loops.

'Always shake your towels after they have dried to help loosen the threads. Shaking your towels will soften them, making them easier to fold,' continues Rachael Shah. 

For best results, ensure towels are fully dry before folding and store them in a closed drawer or an organised linen cupboard out of the bathroom. If you do need towel storage ideas for your bathroom, make sure they are kept as dry as possible or used frequently.

'Any towel that is damp when stored away could cause mildew and musty smells to form,' says Rachael Shah, Head of Sustainability at Linen Connect.

'Ensuring your towels are dry before storing them away will help to keep them smelling fresh.'

Avoid stacking freshly laundered bath towels on top of one another as this can flatten the fluffiness.

'Storing towels side by side instead of in stacks will ensure that the bottom towels aren't crushed by the ones above,' adds, Nancy Emery.

Linen cupboard with folded towels and labelled storage baskets

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)


What is the best cycle for washing towels?

We've found that most linen experts recommend a gentle wash with a low heat of between 30 and 40 degrees to preserve towel fabric fibres. 

However, the NHS recommend using the highest temperature setting as per the manufacturer's label guidelines. Try alternating the wash temperatures between 30 and 60. Deep cleaning towels intermittently will protect fabric fibres for longer. 

What not to do when washing towels

There are some things that you should avoid when washing towels as they could cause damage to the fabrics and affect softness and colour.

Rachael Shah advises the below: 'Don't put a wet towel in the laundry basket as this creates a musty odour that then transfers to other garments and the laundry storage. 

'Don't overload the washing machine drum with towels as this will make the washing less effective. Too much detergent can cause a build-up that hampers the towel's absorbency.'

Now next time you go to grab a towel for a luxurious bath, you'll be able to relax rather than wonder what that musty scent is.


Rachel Homer has been in the interiors publishing industry for over 15 years. Starting as a Style Assistant on Inspirations Magazine, she has since worked for some of the UK’s leading interiors magazines and websites. After starting a family, she moved from being a content editor at to be a digital freelancer and hasn’t looked back.